Hurricane Rita anxiety led to the worst gridlock in Houston history

Houston - Hurricane Katrina had devastated the U.S. only a few weeks earlier. And with Hurricane Rita – documented as the strongest Gulf storm on record – on track to bash East Texas, Houstonians heeded the call to evacuate. That’s the moment residents remember best a decade later.

The promised peril from the Category 5 storm never materialized. Rita weakened to Category 3 before coming ashore in East Texas (much further east than predicted) on Sept. 24, 2005. 

The storm still did $12 billion in damage, but Katrina did more than $100 billion in damage. A little more than 100 deaths occurred during Rita compared to almost 2,000 during Katrina.

In the Houston area, the muddled flight from the city killed almost as many people as Rita did. 

An estimated 2.5 million people hit the road ahead of the storm’s arrival, creating some of the most insane gridlock in U.S. history. 

More than 100 evacuees died in the exodus. Drivers waited in traffic for 20-plus hours, and heat stroke impaired or killed dozens.